All-the-rage FURIA out to make their mark at IEM Katowice
We went through FURIA's recent history and upward trajectory with the current roster as the Brazilians prepare for their biggest challenge ever at the first Major of 2019.
It is the end of the year. With the tournament season already over, players and coaches fly home to spend the holidays with their loved ones and charge their batteries before going at it again in 2019.
But that is not the case with FURIA. In Miami, the lights stay on at the team’s gaming house, the computers still running around the clock as the players continue to prepare for what is coming, the Americas Minor. For some of them, it is their first Christmas and New Year’s away from their families and friends, away from sunny Brazil. But it is a price that they are willing to pay for the ultimate prize: a much-coveted spot at a Major.
The sacrifice ends up paying dividends as FURIA qualify for the showpiece event after finishing in second place at the rather underwhelming Minor, only losing to red-hot favorite NRG in a two-map series in the upper bracket final. FURIA’s players were all smiles after they thrashed Envy 2-0, barely able to contain the excitement at having reached the biggest competition in the world after a convincing run in which they were always one class above rivals INTZ, TeamOne and Imperial at the Brazilian-filled competition.
“The CS life is a b*tch," says Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato, one of the youngest players on FURIA at 19 years. "This was the first time that I spent the holiday season away from my family. But I knew that it was for something greater, that it was for my dream.
"By staying in the United States, we were not disconnected from CS, we did not lose focus or rhythm."
What a difference six months can make. At the previous Minor, in London, FURIA had looked out of their depth, going out last after losing to compLexity and Não Tem Como. In hindsight, though, the results in the British capital were hardly a surprise. It was only the second international LAN for most of the players - the exception being Guilherme "spacca" Spacca, a veteran from the 1.6 scene - and their core weaknesses and simple style, with very limited variations, were exposed by far more experienced opponents.
The turnaround in fortunes began when FURIA promoted Rinaldo "ableJ" Moda Junior from their academy squad, which had already been the breeding ground for KSCERATO. Identifying and nurturing young talent have always been the organisation’s core values, so it is no surprise that they will be the youngest team in action at the Major, with an average age of just 20.3 (the next team on the list is AVANGAR at 21.1 and the tournament average is 23.75).
"Using statistics, I was able to filter players based on some criteria that I thought were right,” says Jaime de Pádua, FURIA’s CEO and founder. "Since I did not have the resources to get the best possible players, I had to go for talented players who had the potential to improve. These were not the best players at the time, but I knew that they could become such in the future.
"[Team coach] Nicholas "guerri" Nogueira also had a very important role when it came to developing players. Our joint efforts made this team work.
"When ableJ moved to the United States, he struggled a bit to adapt. Sometimes, guerri and I would tell him: 'Just stay calm, you are not here to prove anything, you have already proved that you can become a better player, that is what matters to us. We will not judge you on a poor match or a poor tournament. You will not be sent back to Brazil because of that.' And he was one of the team’s best players at the Minor."
That data-driven approach has helped FURIA to produce some of Brazilian’s hottest prospects, something that did not go unnoticed by MIBR. Towards the end of 2018, the Immortals-owned team made KSCERATO their top target to replace Tarik "tarik" Celik, but talks broke down after the two organisations failed to reach an agreement.
FURIA faced severe criticism for their high valuation of KSCERATO, believed to be in the region of $200,000, with some even going as far as to claim that the organisation was destroying his career. De Pádua argues that it would not have made sense to sell the player on the cheap, but he insists that his side was always open to discussing a transfer.
“The people who said those things probably do not think that any longer because of our recent results,” the FURIA CEO says. "But it was not about a figure, everyone involved in the process knows that FURIA was open to negotiations to try to find a middle ground that was good for everyone. But unfortunately, that middle ground could not be reached. It is not like we were inflexible.
"We always tried to think about the players, not just the one who could leave but also the ones who would be left behind. We knew our project was well structured and planned. There was no point in letting the player go just to please him or MIBR without thinking if this was good for everyone.
“KSCERATO understood our side and what happened, and there are no bad feelings towards FURIA because he knows we want the best for him.”
When asked to reflect on those days when a dream move was on the table, KSCERATO almost has to pinch himself to make sure that it was all real. "I was very happy, I have the utmost respect for that tag and the weight that it has. Those who come from 1.6 always talk about it, the respect people had for the tag and the fear it instilled in opponents… I was kind of sad because it was a dream of mine but also happy that they wanted me because it means I am on the right path. It was a damn good opportunity, but I know it will not be the last."
That is all in the past now, a closed chapter for all parties. KSCERATO remains faithful to FURIA, much to the relief of the team’s die-hard legion. In its short history, the organisation has managed to build a strong fan base, as evidenced by the fact that the #DiaDeFuria [Day of Furia] hashtag, used by players and fans on game days, trended on Twitter while the team competed at the Americas Minor.
“I have always had great affection for those who cheered on FURIA," De Pádua explains. "I have always wanted to pay a lot of attention to them, always wanted to be respectful, always wanted people to like the brand and not just the players. I think the hashtag shows a bit of that, of the culture that we have managed to create. When we lose, people are not so hard on us, the messages they send are not so negative.
"As the owner of the organisation, I feel honored and flattered that we have that kind of support from the Brazilian community. To think about just how many people we influence in life, root for us and send positive energy, that is something amazing.”
The public support offered by renowned figures in Brazil has also helped FURIA to become a social media sensation. Professional poker player André Akkari, who holds a WSOP bracelet, co-founded the organisation and regularly posts about his team and other things esports related on social media, and football phenomenon Neymar, a Counter-Strike player himself, has made no secret of his support for the squad.
"Neymar has always been a friend of mine and of Akkari’s, he has always liked Counter-Strike, we play it every week," De Pádua says. "He is not an investor but a partner. He has been following FURIA since the beginning, he helped us to pick the logo.
"He has always been very involved, not only because he likes the game but also because he is a friend. That is why he really loves the team and feels connected."
Could Neymar’s support help to boost FURIA’s fortunes at the Major? For KSCERATO, the team takes extra motivation from the Paris Saint-Germain star’s comments. "If he is enjoying it, it means we are doing well," the 19-year-old said, admitting that he could not hide his excitement when Neymar began to follow the team on Instagram. "It was after the victory against INTZ, I think. It was unreal, I even took a screenshot. I never would have imagined it. Neymar!”
IEM Katowice comes at just the right time for FURIA, who hit their peak placement of 21st in the ranking only last week. This will be the first Major with two Brazilian teams since PGL Major Krakow, where Immortals defied the odds and caused a major surprise by finishing in second place.
Asked if FURIA could repeat Immortals’ surprising campaign, KSCERATO said: "Yes, I think so. Being Legends is not the main goal but the foundation of our goal. And, in the best-case scenario, winning the Major, right? There is no point in playing the tournament if you do not want to win it. Everyone does."
In their opening match in Poland, the new kids on the block will be facing none other than NiP, the oldest of the 24 teams in attendance at the Major, with an average age of 26.8 years. It is a real test for the young Brazilians but one that they can overcome. At least that is the wish of the ever-faithful FURIA legion that will be tuning in to the game, among which will most likely be Neymar himself, who is looking for reasons to smile these days as he continues his recovery from a foot injury.
Tomorrow is #DiaDeFuria